World’s Largest Mental Health and Arts Festival Returns to Sydney



‘The Big Anxiety Festival’ is returning to Sydney this year, and it is set to host a range of incredible events designed to build self-love and combat mental health issues.

Mental health is arguably the most important and impactful form of wellbeing. The past decade has seen an influx of new initiatives emerge that strive to combat the stigmas surrounding mental health issues, and promote healthy coping mechanisms.

However, suicide is the leading form of death for Australian’s aged 15-44 years old, and 65% of Australians who suffer from a mental health problem still don’t seek help. 

Evidently, there is still a way to go when it comes to encouraging individuals to speak out about their mental health struggles and seek professional help when needed. 

In September this year, Sydney will once again host the biggest mental health festival in the world aimed towards improving these statistics and empowering people to undertake positive mental health practices.

The Big Anxiety Festival, winner of ‘Best New Event’ at the 2018 Australian Event Awards, combines art, science, and technology to explore and teach attendees about mental health. 

The festival will run from September 27th to November 3rd, and will focus on the potential for the arts to be a form of performative self-expression, and as a tool for improving mental health.

Tickets to each section of the festival are dependent on the nature of the event, however many of the installations and workshops are free or low-cost.

The festival aims to draw on the power of art to help in healing and sharing experiences with one another.

“The arts are the best means we have for sharing complex experience.  They show us what we don’t know about ourselves and others.  They shine light on the relationships and social settings that help or hinder mental health, and they are a means to transform those relationships.”

Professor Jill Bennett, Artistic Director of the Festival
Woman lying down on her back in caravan
A ‘Mobile Mood Lab’ installation from the 2017 Big Anxiety Festival. Image credit: Skyline Productions AU

Using art alongside science and technology to explore different facets of mental health, the 3 focus areas of the festival this year are Empathy and Stigma, Care and Healing, and Suicide Prevention. The event program includes:

  • A new virtual reality project by the NPY Women’s Council,  who draw from the Indigenous Australian healing practices of Uti Kulintjaku – which in the native language of the Pitjantjatjara people, means ‘to think and understand clearly.’
  • A community workshop experience titled ‘Edge of the Present,’ developed by youth who have experienced suicidal behaviour and grounded in cognitive neuropsychology. Participants will transform the workshop space through their choices, encouraging curiosity and productive ways to envision change and reimagine the future in positive ways.
  • Courses on empathy, including art installations, virtual reality tools, and courses on how to use empathy and experience empathy as a tool for overcoming bias and stigma and encouraging positive relationships.
  • An international conference titled ‘Anxiety, Culture and the Future’ which brings together international and Australian thinkers to reimagine the future and look at practical ways of addressing mental health.

Other organisations and industry professionals supporting and involved in the festival include UNSW Sydney, The Black Dog InstituteThe Bridging Hope Charity FoundationThe Neilson Foundation, and experts Renata Salecl, Slovenian author or ‘On Anxiety’ and ‘The Tyranny of Choice,’ and UK’s Lyn Frogget who specialises in the health benefits and psychosocial impacts of art and culture.

For more information on the festival and tickets head over  to The Big Anxiety website.

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Sarah Carroll


Sarah navigates health and fitness alongside a sinful sweet tooth and an unfortunate tendency to splash her savings online shopping, eating out or buying $10 cocktails at happy hour. With a love for yoga, animals and musical theatre, Sarah is rarely found without a peppermint-green tea in hand, tearing up over animal videos on Instagram.

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